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Hagan wins, clinches record

by Bill Cawthon on

Sunday was a big improvement for Matt Hagan and the DieHard Dodge Charger at the fourth annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. After a fiery Saturday, Don Schumacher crew chief and engine wizard Tony DeLago worked what must have been magic: Hagan not only cruised through the eliminations, clinched his ET record in the first round and picked up a Wally, he set a new Funny Car speed record of 322.27 miles per hour. Best of all, he advanced to second in the standings, just 22 point behind Mike Neff for the lead in the Countdown to the Championship.

“It’s something else to sit in a race car when it has that kind of potential,” said Hagan. “This is the third national record we’ve set with this car and that’s phenomenal to me. To have a group of guys around you like Tommy DeLago, (assistant crew chief) Glen Huszar, and all the guys who beat this thing up and put it back together is phenomenal. It’s truly a fairy tale deal to go out there, set the record and win the race.”

Three Don Schumacher Dodges made it all the way to the semifinals. In Round One, Johnny Gray and the Service Central Charger knocked off John Force’s Castrol GTX Mustang in a slow pass; Force went up in smoke at about 300 feet and Gray began to lose some cylinders. Jack Beckman in the Valvoline/Aaron’s Charger shut down Paul Lee in the Jim Dunn/Rislone/Bars Leaks Impala and locked up his national speed record. Matt Hagan’s DieHard Charger blew past John Smith’s Paul Smith Racing Monte Carlo, posting an ET of 4.018 seconds at a blistering 322.27 miles per hour. Ron Capps and the NAPA Charger fell to Jeff Arend in the DHL Solara; Capps smoked the tires at the 200-foot mark.

In the quarterfinals, Beckman set a new national speed record fast enough to clinch his national record speed and more than fast enough to beat Paul Lee in the Jim Dunn/Rislone/Bars Leaks Impala. Johnny Gray smoked the tires but still beat Jim Head and the Head Racing Solara. Cruz Pedregon got off the line first in the Snap-On Solara and had the lead for the first 200 feet, but Hagan caught up and passed, beating Cruz by about 11 feet.

Johnny Gray fell to points leader Mike Neff and the Ford Drive One Mustang in the first matchup of the semifinals while the second race featured Hagan and Beckman, both of whom set records this weekend. Like Pedregon in the previous round, Beckman got the early lead, only to be passed by Hagan who posted a 4.032-second ET at 318.69 miles per hour to Beckman’s 4.090/317.79 run.

In the finals, Mike Neff’s reaction time was 0.013 seconds faster than Hagan and Neff had the lead until be he started mixing up cylinders about 500 feet and had to back off the throttle. Hagan passed Neff before the halfway mark pulled away for the win with a margin of 0.301 seconds, about 86 feet.

Hagan didn’t get the 319.02 mph speed he needed to trump Beckman’s new record, but he comes away with the ET record and passes Beckman in the points standings.

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson and Viery Gaines were both eliminated in the first round while Vincent Nobile made it to the semifinals.

Nobile and his Mountainview Tire Avenger got a good start on Sunday with his best time of the weekend, eliminating Larry Morgan in the Lucas Oil/Summit Mustang. V. Gaines was paired up with Jason Line and the Summit Racing Equipment GXP. Line had the quickest pass of the first round while Gaines had problems early on and pushed on the clutch. In the next heat, the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger began to shake on the start and Allen Johnson also had to shut down, giving the win to Greg Stanfield in the Nitrofish GXP.

In the quarterfinals, Nobile had a really good run, beating Shane Gray’s reaction time by 0.34 seconds and building his lead over the Service Central GXP all the way down the track. Nobile’s margin of victory was 0.019 seconds.

Nobile’s luck ran out in the semifinals; he had a near-perfect 0.004 reaction time, but Kurt Johnson’s Total Seal GXP caught up by the 330-foot marker and tripped the lights 0.0093 seconds and three feet ahead the Mountain view Tire Dodge. Johnson went on to the finals and won when Jason Line, the points leader who had dominated the weekend, was too quick on the start and fouled out on a red light.

Current Driver Standings in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Countdown to the Championship

Rank Funny Car Points Rank Pro Stock Points
1 Mike Neff 2209 1 Jason Line 2186
2 Matt Hagan 2187 2 Greg Anderson 2155
3 Jack Beckman 2156 3 Vincent Nobile 2132
4 Cruz Pedregon 2113 4 Mike Edwards 2125
5 Robert Hight 2103 5 Erica Enders 2103
6 Ron Capps 2082 6 Allen Johnson 2080
7 Jeff Arend 2064 7 Greg Stanfield 2071
8 John Force 2063 8 Rodger Brogdon 2062
9 Bob Tasca III 2055 9 Shane Gray 2061
10 Tim Wilkerson 2052 10 Ron Krisher 2010

Next event in the Countdown to the Championship is the 26th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals next weekend, September 22-25, at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, about 40 miles southeast of Dallas on Interstate 45.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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